How To Marinate And Make Better Food

Throw a bunch of things in a plastic bag, put in raw meat, go to work (or sleep), and when you come back, best friends.

2. A marinade is a liquid mixture that you can soak food in before it’s cooked to make it way more delicious.

You can use a plastic bag…

…or a nonreactive dish (glass, ceramic, plastic, stainless steel, but not aluminum or copper because they will react to the acid).

Don’t worry too much if you don’t have the exact ingredients in a recipe — just follow this basic formula.

ACID (but not too much)
eg: vinegar, lemon/lime/orange juice, wine, buttermilk, or yogurt
why: tenderize protein to let the other flavor-enhancing ingredients get in there

or soy sauce
why: also tenderizes

eg, olive oil, canola oil
why: helps release the flavor of spices or herbs and hold them in contact with the meat.

eg, garlic, rosemary, ginger, chiles, maple syrup
why: adds flavor


Certain pairings are natural and if you think about it you probably know what they are because you eat food sometimes (lamb with rosemary; chicken with yogurt; pork with honey; shrimp with ginger). A good approach is to stick with ingredients that are common in the same cuisine. Here are some examples of that:

rice-wine vinegar, soy sauce, mirin (sweet wine), ginger, coconut milk, lime juice, lemongrass, sugar, cilantro, garlic

red and white vinegar, red and white wine, beer, lemon juice, garlic, basil, parsley, tarragon, oregano, mint, chives, dill, thyme, rosemary, mustard, sugar/honey

Bourbon, Tabasco sauce, buttermilk, Worcestershire, sugar/honey/maple syrup

yogurt, cumin, turmeric, coriander, curry powder, cilantro, mint, garlic

chiles, cumin, oregano, lime juice

8. Watch out for sugar.

Sugary ingredients in a marinade — like maple syrup, honey, brown sugar/white sugar, sweet wines — can cause your food to char when you cook them. So take note when a marinade has sugar in it and either use lower the heat or move the food around more as you’re cooking it.

9. Get even coverage.

If you’re using a dish, get your food item in a single layer then flip it once or twice over the course of its flavor bath. Shake/flip a couple times if you’re using a plastic bag.

10. Dont poke holes in the meat.

This is a debate. The esteemed experts at Cook’s Illustrated say you should. BuzzFeed Food editors believe poking holes in your meat is silly and will cause the natural juices to seep out when the meat is cooked, leaving it dry and abused.

11. A longer marinade isn’t always better — but it usually is.

There are several factors to take into account with marinade time: type of meat, size of meat chunks, and acidity of the marinade. For dark proteins — beef, lamb, pork — longer is always better. BUT, if the food is delicate — shrimp, flaky fish — stop marinating after 15 or 30 minutes or the acid will start to break down the protein too much. Chicken is somewhere in the middle, anywhere from 2 to 12 hours is good depending on the cut (skin-on breasts require less time, for example).

12. Some proteins need a marinade’s added flavor more than others.

Oh hey boneless skinless chicken breasts, you look SO GROSS. You and other protein that is tough, dry, naturally flavorless, or cheap will be especially improved by a marinade. (So in addition to chicken breast, think hanger steaks, pork chops, etc.)

13. Wipe it off.

When you take something out of a marinade, wipe it gently to remove most of the clingy bits of herbs or garlic. Otherwise they will char when you cook the meat.

14. Marinades can be sauces, too.

You can set aside some of your marinade before it comes into contact with any raw meat to use it later is a sauce. You can also use the marinade after it’s bathed the raw meat, but you have to boil the marinade first to get rid of any bacteria. Otherwise, just throw the marinade away. Don’t try to reuse it to marinate other meat.

15. Now you are a master so you don’t really need to follow a recipe — but just in case, here are some good ones.

Underneath each photo you’ll see the marinade ingredients and time so you can see the patterns.

17. Toasted Sesame Ginger Salmon

MARINADE: olive oil + toasted sesame oil + rice vinegar + brown sugar + soy sauce + garlic + ginger + at least 10 minutes

Get the recipe

18. Miso-Glazed Tuna Kebabs

MARINADE: miso + mirin + sugar + water + mayonnaise + 1 hour

Get the recipe.

19. Planked Salmon with Coconut Rice

MARINADE: maple syrup + Dijon mustard + soy sauce + lime juice + at least 10 minutes

Get the recipe

20. Grilled Fish Tacos

MARINADE: lime juice + cilantro + oil + salt + 15 minutes

Get the recipe.

21. Grilled Salmon with Strawberry-Avocado Salsa

MARINADE: orange juice/zest + lime juice + salt + pepper + garlic + chili powder + cumin + cilantro + olive oil + 30 minutes

Get the recipe

22. Steamed Fish with Chickpeas and Currants

MARINADE: oil + cumin + cinnamon + sumac + 30 minutes

Get the recipe

23. Miso-Glazed Salmon Steaks

MARINADE: miso + mirin + vinegar + ginger + sesame oil + 30 minutes

Get the recipe.

25. Seared Tofu with Spicy Stir-Fried Cabbage

MARINADE: soy sauce + cream sherry + garlic + ginger + sugar + 10 minutes

Get the recipe

26. Stir-Fried Marinated Tofu and Mushrooms

MARINADE: soy sauce + rice vinegar + sesame oil + red pepper flakes + 30 minutes

Get the recipe

27. Wheatberry Salad with Grilled Tofu

MARINADE: tomatoes + red wine vinegar + balsamic vinegar + Dijon + sugar + salt + black pepper + oil + 30 minutes

Get the recipe.

28. Shallot-Marinated Tofu with Miso Dipping Sauce

MARINADE: lemon juice + grated lemon zest + orange juice + grapeseed oil + shallots + cilantro + Dijon mustard + salt + pepper + 1 hour

Get the recipe

30. Spicy Shrimp Tostadas with Jalapeno Avocado Sauce

MARINADE: paprika + cumin + chili powder + salt + pepper + 30 minutes

Get the recipe

31. Drunken Shrimp

MARINADE: soy sauce + garlic + jalapeños + cilantro + lime juice + oil + sugar + lemongrass + 10 minutes

Get the recipe

32. Maple-Chili Grilled Shrimp

MARINADE: salt + brown sugar + smoked paprika + cayenne pepper + chili powder + crushed chili flakes + oregano + salt + 1 hour

Get the recipe.

33. Shrimp Tikka with Fresh Mango Chutney

MARINADE: lime juice + jalapeño + ginger + garlic + garam masala + turmeric + nutmeg + 30 minutes

Get the recipe

35. Spatchcocked Lemon Herb Chicken

MARINADE: garlic + kosher salt + fresh thyme + fresh rosemary + lemon juice + olive oil + paprika + at least 4 hours

Get the recipe

36. Brazilian Beer Marinated Chicken

MARINADE: garlic + ginger + onion + paprika + salt + black pepper + caraway seeds + green pepper + mustard + beer + oil + 4 hours

Get the recipe.

37. Garlic-Marinated Chicken Cutlets

MARINADE: olive oil + garlic + white wine vinegar + fresh thyme + salt + pepper + 10 to 30 minutes

Get the recipe.

38. Chicken and Ginger Clay Pot

MARINADE: brown sugar + water + ginger + garlic + soy sauce + fish sauce + lime juice + star anise + chiles + at least 1 hour

Get the recipe

39. Chicken Thighs Marinated with Homemade Ssam Paste

MARINADE: miso + sugar + sesame oil + fish sauce + white vinegar + chile powder + garlic + ginger + onion + 8 to 12 hours

Get the recipe.

40. Basic Buttermilk Fried Chicken

MARINADE: buttermilk + salt + thyme + pepper + cayenne pepper + at least 8 hours

Get the recipe

41. Apricot-Glazed Chicken

MARINADE: shallots + ginger + veg oil + red-wine vinegar + soy sauce + apricot preserves + at least 8 hours

Get the recipe.

42. Buttermilk and Herb Marinated Chicken

MARINADE: buttermilk + rosemary + salt + pepper + 1 to 8 hours

Get the recipe.

43. Chicken, Mushroom, and Bok Choy Kebabs

MARINADE: garlic + soy sauce + Sherry + brown sugar + ginger + Sesame oil + 3 hours

Get the recipe

45. Pomegranate-Marinated Lamb with Spices and Couscous

MARINADE: pomegranate molasses + garlic + olive oil + ground ginger + cinnamon + cumin + paprika + salt + pepper + at least 8 hours

Get the recipe

46. Greek-Style Leg of Lamb

MARINADE: olive oil + onion + garlic + dill + lemon juice + lemon zest + dried oregano + at least 4 hours

Get the recipe.

47. Roasted Marinated Lamb with Lemon and Rosemary Potatoes

MARINADE: lemon zest and juice + garlic + rosemary + oil + at least 8 hours

Get the recipe

48. Lamb Kebabs with Mint Pesto

MARINADE: olive oil + garlic + coarse salt + coriander + 2 to 4 hours

Get the recipe.

49. Grilled Leg of Lamb with Ancho Chili Marinade

MARINADE: red wine + oil + garlic + fresh oregano + ancho chile powder + lemon juice + green onion + brown sugar + salt + pepper + at least 8 hours

Get the recipe.

50. Marinated Lamb Chops

MARINADE: garlic + shallots + rosemary + thyme + red pepper flakes + olive oil + 6 hours

Get the recipe

52. Balsamic and Rosemary-Marinated Florentine Steak

MARINADE: balsamic vinegar + olive oil + rosemary + 6 hours

Get the recipe.

53. Pan-Grilled Beer-Marinated Hanger Steak

MARINADE: soy sauce + olive oil + garlic + Dijon mustard + rosemary + Worcestershire sauce + ground black pepper + dark lager beer + 12-24 hours

Get the recipe

54. Cola-Marinated Flank Steak with Frito Chilaquiles

MARINADE: cola + jarred Thai green curry paste + jalapeños + 15 minutes.

Get the recipe.

55. Harissa-Marinated Tri-Tip Roast Recipe

MARINADE: harissa + vinegar + salt + pepper + olive oil + garlic + 8-12 hours

Get the recipe

56. Sirloin Steak with Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus

MARINADE: mustard + lemon juice + garlic + salt + pepper + 10 mins to 24 hours

Get the recipe

57. Hoisin-Marinated Tri-Tip Roast Recipe

MARINADE: hoisin + ginger + garlic + rice vinegar + soy sauce + freshly ground black pepper + olive oil + 8 to 24 hours

Get the recipe

58. Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

MARINADE: garlic + thyme + orange zest + bay leaves + allspice + peppercorns + cloves + wine + 12 to 24 hours

Get the recipe

59. Coffee-Marinated Bison Short Ribs

MARINADE: water + chilled strong brewed coffee + kosher salt + dark brown sugar + maple syrup + fresh rosemary + Worcestershire sauce + 4-6 hours
(these are actually bison short ribs, not beef, but the marinade would work nicely with either)

Get the recipe

61. Honey-Marinated Pork with Gremolata

MARINADE: honey + garlic + orange juice in small bowl + sea salt + pepper + at least two hours

Get the recipe

62. Mojo Pork Kebabs

MARINADE: oil + garlic + red-pepper flakes + lime juice + orange juice + 30 minutes to 12 hours

Get the recipe.

63. Marinated Pork Chops

MARINADE: soy sauce + hoisin sauce + garlic + honey + sugar + 1 to 24 hours

Get the recipe

64. Pork Tenderloin Marinated in Amber Ale

MARINADE: amber ale + carrots + celery + celery + onion + at least twelve hours

Get the recipe.

65. Pineapple Pork Chops

MARINADE: pineapple + cilantro sprigs + chiles + soy sauce + fish sauce + garlic clove + at least 6 hours

Get the recipe

66. Vinegar and Spice Oven Ribs

MARINADE: dark brown sugar + cider vinegar + lemon zest + garlic + kosher + paprika + freshly ground black pepper + allspice + at least 6 hours

Get the recipe

67. Burmese Red Pork Stew

MARINADE: soy sauce + sesame oil + chili oil + at least 6 hours

Get the recipe

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